Date: 12th May 2011 at 8:18am
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Vital Manchester City is delighted to bring readers our biggest Q&A ever ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup final with members from Stoke City ‘Oatcake Fanzine.

Such was the response we’ve decided to break the article into several segments.

Oatcake Fanzine can be found here.

Part 1

VMC: Stoke City FC has reached their first ever FA Cup Final. What does it mean to you as a supporter?

Matthew Sutton: Everything, still pinching myself!

Simon Robinson: There will be those who have memories of Stokes good times in the 60’s/70’s, a number of FA Cup semis, League Cup winners, European Football, and the glory days of Sir Stan, Gordon Banks, Denis Smith, Alan Hudson, Jimmy Greenhoff, John Ritchie etc, and for decades we have had to listen to them regale their tales of the wonderful football and how it was the best Stoke team ever.

For me, I was a season ticket holder (taken by my grandad much to my dads disgust!) around 1980, so saw a few years of ‘top flight’ football in front of dwindling crowds, Stoke battling to stay up which they ultimately succumbed to with only 17 points, then pretty much 24 years of continual underachievement only broken up by an Autoglass and a 3rd division title under Lou, then an Autoglass and Playoff win under the Icemen.

So fairly slim pickings to be fair! We had some decent players that are my ‘heroes’ of old – Stein, Biggins, Fox, Overson, Cranson, Thorne etc, but they are the few compared to the utter amount of dross I have also had to endure – Bryan Small, a fat Paul Stewart, and even fatter Marco Gabbiadini, random foreigners that would struggle to get into my pub team, and a whole host of appalling players that flattered to deceive and somehow became professional footballers and were paid to play for my club. I supported them all the way, but ultimately knew we would never win or get anywhere!

So to me as a supporter the last 4 years (including promotion season) are surreal. To be even challenging to get in the PL in the first place was exciting, to be still in with a chance in March 2007 was amazing, to hold our nerve and actually get up was a fantastic achievement, but to stay there for 3 years so far has gone beyond my wildest dreams. It’s a fun ride, and as long as people don’t get used to sitting on it and become complacent, it will remain so.

As for the cup, we have pretty much mirrored our league status in the competitions since I can remember, bar a 5th round appearance in 1987 when we were robbed of victory at home against eventual winners Coventry – at 1-1 Lee Dixon was cynically hacked down in the box, no penno given, 5 minutes later Micky Gynn pops up and wins the game late in. Cruel.

That was the last time until last season where we lost at Chelsea after beating you and Arsenal, but we have been getting better at them in recent years – quarter finals of the Carling last season etc.

For a club like ours it pretty much is the only chance of success (if you base that on trophies), although for many of us the success is simply getting there.

The ride the club has been on has constantly surprised and astonished me, getting to the cup final is another amazing achievement.

VMC: Tony Pulis has had two managerial stints at Stoke. How do you rate him?

Matt Sutton: Rarely can a manager have had so many ups & downs at one club, he has well & truly blown the old adage of ‘never go back’ out of the water as well.

First spell – came in when we looked doomed to relegation & saved us with some astute loan signings and a no nonsense attitude, worked a minor miracle. Relationship with the Icelandic owners then broke down, binary football was christened and then he unbelievably secured a new one year rolling contract before being sacked straight afterwards for not buying enough foreign players!

Second spell – Can’t say I was pleased when he came back even with Peter Coates promising new money & a new style, indifferent at best, could a leopard change its spots?

Thankfully he has proved me wrong a hundred times over. He can be the most stubborn dinosaur at times but he does things his way & it bloody works. I keep thinking that he can’t possibly take us any further but season after season we are improving. The season has been just amazing, we have never been in any serious relegation danger and the FA Cup run has made this my best ever season whatever happens in the final.

He is well on his way to the freedom of the city if not sainthood. He gets the mood of the fans, we know we will never be able to compete on a financial & glamour status but as long as the boys in the red & white give it their all ‘we’ll be with you, every step along the way’.

Simon Robinson: Shall we just say that the first time he was here, most where fairly under whelmed with his appointment, but given the mess the club was in – we sacked our Icelandic manager Gudjon Thordasson within weeks of promotion, then bought in Steve ‘The Quitter’ Cotterall for just 14 games before he left to become a lackey at Sunderland (that went well lol…), so Pulis walked into a Stoke side that was languishing in the league, and under threat of going back down to the third tier very quickly.

Pulis applied his no nonsense methods, building from the back and utilising his methods of bringing in big strong strikers and getting the ball forward quickly. Somehow it worked, and Ade Akinbyi kept us up on the last day of the season by scoring as we beat soon to be promoted Reading.

After that the side sort of stagnated – we had a season referred to as the ‘binary’ season, where (I kid you not) nearly every week the score was 0-0, 1-0, 0-1, 1-1 – it was painfully dull stuff to watch as he played a multitude of players out of position – Carl Asaba, Chris Greenacre, Akinbyi, Gifton Noel Williams – all playing on the wings and not up front at different times and the team just lumped endless and aimless balls up front (you may say what’s new, but at least they are done with some direction now lol).

The Icelandic’s got rid of him and bought in their new man, and I would argue that although there was some disquiet with some supporters, not too many were actually that bothered.

At the end of the next season the Icelandic’s and their man were gone, and Peter Coates came back in, and almost immediately sought to bring Pulis back from Plymouth, where he had done a great job on very limited resources.

Coates backed Pulis, and enabled him to bring in the players to adapt to his plans better, the team was strengthened, players like Fuller, Sidebe, Shawcross, Whelan, Lawrence all came in, and within 2 seasons we were up.

My feelings for Tony have changed over time. The first time round I thought he did an OK job, kept us up, but we never looked like progressing, partially I think because we had no money and were broke!

I wasn’t for him coming back after the ‘binary’ period, it really was painful, but after an inauspicious start the team has gone from strength to strength, he got the crowd behind the team and therefore him, got us promoted and achieved the impossible by keeping us there, not just hovering around the bottom but as a comfortable mid table outfit.

He still frustrates the feck out of me with his tactics at times, especially away from home where he is naturally negative, but we shouldn`t grumble too much I suppose and remember where we came from!

So I commend Tony Pulis, I thank him for what he has done, and I rate him as a magician, getting performances out of players sent to the scrap heap by other clubs, getting them fit, eager, hungry and a desire to be part of the team ethic – a rare commodity in today`s game.

VMC: Where will you be watching the FA Cup Final?

Matthew Sutton: Block 507 Row 9, I’ll be the one in a red & white top!

Simon Robinson: Block 516! I’m a season ticker holder in the Boothen End (with my 9 year old boy who is a lucky spud – where was he at Mansfield on a Tuesday night in February..wouldn’t miss this for the world even if I had to sell my other children. (Note to do-gooders, I wouldn’t really sell my kids. Probably my wife’s car).

VMC: What is the club, if anything doing to mark the occasion? For example, are they putting on large screens and showing the final at the Britannia Stadium etc?

Matthew Sutton: There was talk of it but to be honest I wouldn’t have thought that there would be that much demand with it being on ITV & I’m sure the local pubs will be making hay. Most people I’ve spoken to who don’t think they are going to get tickets will be travelling down for the day anyway just to enjoy what could be a once in a lifetime experience, a real ‘we were there’ moment.

Simon Robinson: The club is in full on Wembley fever mode, with endless tat on sale in the club shop (overprices flags and t-shirts etc), and locally the press and radio are in overdrive, there are Stoke tops, flags, badges etc all over the city – its really a sea of red and white as people cars, houses and clothing has become a red and white cacophony.

Not sure what the club is planning for final day, would imagine most people who work there would be at Wembley so not a lot of stewards or refreshment folk available to have a big screen etc! Would think the pubs and clubs of the 6 towns and numerous villages will be heaving to capacity though given the disgraceful allocations to both clubs – reckon both could easily have sold 40,000 each but that`s a different matter….

VMC: The semi-final result at Wembley against Bolton was truly amazing. Did Stoke play above expectations or were Bolton like rabbits dazzled in a car headlights?

Matt Sutton: After a nervous first ten minutes I think we just blew them away. We had been mugged by Bolton a few times over the last few seasons so I think it was pay back in the semi & we paid them back in good style. To be honest though we enjoy the recurring sound of opposing managers/players/fans telling everybody it was their worst performance of the season when they get beat by the potters, let`s face it nobody likes getting dicked by a pub team do they!

Simon Robinson: Mixture of both I think – bar the first 10 minutes when Bolton put some pressure on, Stoke were absolutely clinical on the day, taking chances with aplomb and applying pressure, pressure, pressure to Bolton until they folded. Yes they were poor, but we didn`t give them chance to be good – any mistakes were capitalised on, we dominated the midfield and their attack, and took our chances.

I sat in the stand elated by the first 2, a little disbelieving after the third, and after 4 and 5 simply jumped, hugged my son, hugged some random blokes near me, then sat there smiling, while at the same time shaking my head as if it were a dream – as I looked around there were many others with stupid smiles on their faces too, also not believing what they were watching!

The goals have been coming though – after a poor winter, we have started to score for fun – 5 against Bolton, 4 against Newcastle, 3 against Wolves (all unanswered), a creditable 3-2 away loss at Spurs, and a fantastic 1-1 home draw with Chelsea that felt like a win, where we went toe to toe with them in an excellent end to end game where both sides could have won, and Fuller missed a sitter from a yard at the end!

VMC: If you were granted two wishes, which two current Manchester City players, if any would you like to see playing for Stoke and why?

Matt Sutton: David Silva & Yaya Toure are the only two who would appeal as our midfield is still nothing to write home about. I ignored Tevez as you said wishes not miracles & we would want somebody who stays for more than just a season anyway!

Simon Robinson: Would think most people would automatically pick Tevez, who is a really fantastic player and who I rate – not sure if he would in our system (he isn’t tall enough lol), and likewise I think Hart is a brilliant keeper who will be England`s number 1 for many years, but we have 2 good keepers, Begovic will be a star, and Sorenson is an international quality keeper.

If you matched the two up its difficult – we have two really good centre halves (Shawcross and Huth), have two good wingers (Ethers and Pennant), and up front decent strikers (Jones and Walters) – we do miss a natural goal scorer and also lack creativity from midfield – we have been crying out for them for years!

o of your squad I would pick, De Jong is a Stoke type player – strong, tackles, but would add that good use of the ball that we are sometimes criticised for.

Think he would fit straight into Tony’s ‘cage’ without any problems and would improve our often maligned central midfield.

Scratch what I said above, I will take Tevez too.

VMC: In general, how do you and your fellow Stoke supporters perceive Manchester City Football Club and their fans?

Matt Sutton: Being born & bred in South Cheshire I’ve had years of mixing with plenty of Man City fans so on the whole it was a mostly amusing experience as your woes & troubles made a bit of light relief from our own crap performances. Obviously you’re new found wealth has elevated you slightly into the teams who you have to despise but can’t say I have any real loathing of the club as I`m sure in my heart it will all go tits up for you again before too long!

I can remember plenty of train journeys in the mid Eighties meeting fans in the ‘no-colours’ days who took great pride in telling us they were ‘Citeh’ fans as if we would know who they supported, maybe in Manchester it is obvious but sadly deluded anywhere else. I have always enjoyed your ‘look on the bright side of life’ (excuse the reference) approach to supporting your team & hope that doesn’t get lost once you start expecting trophies & top 4 finishes every season, I’ll reserve judgement on the Poznan till I see it in the flesh!!

As there is always a nasty undercurrent between the two sets of fans I can’t see Wembley being trouble free which is a shame. Much as we have our own knuckle-draggers you seem to conveniently forget about your own lot, can’t say I have ever found any trip to Maine Road or Eastlands enjoyable whatever the result. From as long as I can remember your fans have always considered your ‘City’ to be in a different league to our lot so god knows what you think now you are steadily buying your way into the elite. Let’s hope that we can both be on our best behaviour for the day & make it a great final to be remembered for years to come, something like Coventry v Spurs wouldn’t go amiss!

Simon Robinson: Most reasonable Stokies will view City fans with some degree of parallel recognition – long suffering fans, fallen from grace, got back there (a familiar story!), and with lots of appreciation for the way they stuck with the club during its tough times. They are seen as loyal, vocal, and without falling into common misconceptions about your neighbours as being ‘proper Mancs’. I know a lot of reds from Manchester, but (how to phrase this…) the poorer areas seem to be more blue. Again lots of parallels there as Stoke is hardly paved with gold!

As for the club, they have a fantastic stadium, rich owners, and there will always be some degree of envy, although we also have a new ground and a rich owner!

What we haven’t done though (and what separates us) is the ‘Chelsea’ way of what`s perceived as ‘buying success’ – not entirely sure what people are expecting a rich owner to do if he wants to compete (he has to buy better players!), and as such other clubs will over inflate prices, but that puts pressure onto the team and the management to deliver, and there will be plenty waiting for you to fall flat on your faces!

Personally I like City and its fans, I have a lot of City supporting mates given the close proximity of the two Citys, I laugh at you when it fails, I cheer you on when you upset the apple cart and beat the ‘Sky 4’ (or 5 if you include their latest favourite in Harry) – you are there to be shot at as a club and are fair game, but also its good that the league gets shaken up!

VMC: FA Cup Final – Man City v Stoke City. Final score prediction please?

Matt Sutton: Score prediction, 1-1 with possibly either side nicking it in extra time or else the lottery of penalties. We will be in a very strange position of having most neutrals wanting us to win (Arsenal & Port Vale fans aside) which isn’t something we are ever used to but I genuinely feel we have the team & the spirit to finish the job off. We have to hope that your semi final win makes you think it is already job done & if I was TP I`d show the lads some of those T-Shirts from your club shop, you might as well have released a special edition FA Cup Winners Commemorative strip already, my recurring dream at the moment is seeing Gary Cook’s big floppy face as they tie on the red & white ribbons.

Best of luck anyway and hopefully Mancini will let the shackles off your lot on the day as you can be a joy to watch when you get it together (see I saved my compliment till the very end!). I’ve also watched some of your ‘parking the bus’ performances this season but as you seem to save those for matches against the ‘big teams’ I’m hoping for a great match.

Simon Robinson: Heart – Stoke City 3-1 Manchester City.Head – Tight game, a real scrap. Still think we will edge it 2-1 though! Really hope Ethers is fit; it makes a massive difference to how we set up!

Vital Manchester City would like to thank Matt, Simon and Oatcake Fanzine.


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